Last week, an Iranian delegation met the Taliban in Tehran, though high-level Iranian sources say the first meeting was held in Moscow. “We have some influence on the Taliban, but we generally use it on behalf of the Afghan government. We’re happy to use it for India too,” they said.
India is not likely to accept any such offer. In the past 17 years, India has built some contacts, though no one is certain how broad or deep they may be. In any case, India remains squarely on the side of the Kabul government. So any “contacts” with the Taliban is necessarily covert, sources said.
A Washington “leak” that the Trump administration might reduce its Afghanistan footprint by as many as 7,000 fighters has resurrected regional manoeuvres with the Taliban for a possible post-US situation.
The US has opened direct talks with the Taliban, the fourth round of which will be held in Qatar on Wednesday. According to reports, the US acquiesced to the Taliban’s demand to hold the talks in Qatar refusing to go to Riyadh as was originally planned. Reports say a draft agreement includes a phased withdrawal of US troops while keeping a civilian footprint in the country. Others say the US might restrict itself to a counter-terrorism role, keeping main urban centres away from the Taliban. But there is no clarity on the issue at all yet, only a lot of jostling by neighbouring powers.
Iranian sources, on the other hand, say the “deal” under discussion, has brought the old group of countries — Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan back together, countries that had supported the Taliban government in the first place. The US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad too has a long history of negotiating with the Taliban in the 1990s, working for US oil interests then. Media reports from Pakistan say the UAE and Saudi Arabia have given financial assistance to Pakistan to incentivise Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The Afghan NSA, Hamdullah Mohib, who was in Delhi for talks with Indian officials last week was dismissive about the efficacy of the peace negotiations under way. He represented the Afghan government at a recent meeting with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and US in Abu Dhabi late December. But despite the demand for the Afghan government to join the talks, the Taliban have refused to have them at the table.
For the Afghan government, the Taliban talks are a “hurried” affair, believing that there are different views within the US on this.
Iran and Afghanistan government share one belief which they have shared with the Indian government — that a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan would be a security threat for India and Iran but “would be an existential threat for Pakistan.”
That is not how Pakistan sees its situation, instead believing it is on the cusp of a second victory against a superpower.
But India is now engaging everyone in this evolving situation. The government held talks with Zamir Kabulov, the Russian special envoy. In the coming days its expected to engage the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on the issue.